April 19, 2009
Edwards (Knox) United Church
Second Sunday of Easter
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The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
This story of Thomas is such a modern story. We hear it in the phrase, "show me the money." In an article by Robert Sibley (Citizen April 11, 2009) he says that trust is the sleeper issue of our time. For the "economic trauma we living through is fundamentally a crisis of trust."
We do not often think about how we got to where we are, how we have become who we are. Our sense of liberal democracy has been based on cooperation, trust based on commonly shared values. Trust is necessary for a healthy, vibrant society. This is the idea of working for the common good, and to do that means trust is needed. However, since the Second World War the sense of community and trust has been slowly disappearing. The last few decades, the trust we have had in institutions, churches, and governments has been lost and some feel it never will be restored in their lifetime. Polls have consistently shown "a much larger pattern of declining trust in public figures and institutions."
We know our daily life is based on trust. We trust the other to stop at the stop sign. We trust people to slow down as they drive through small villages. We have signs to tell us to do that, but it is still a matter of the person being willing to agree. All the police in the world will not make us slow down. In fact, to demand more police, to slow traffic down, will actually foster what it is intended to overcome, reinforcing the public mistrust the laws seek to remedy.
Of course, we cannot trust everyone all the time. People, when they pursue self interest, will use methods to achieve them at any cost. When self gratification is the highest value, then trust is hard to maintain. It is also true we can be victimized by trust, because there are those who purposely use trust to cheat us, just think of Pounzi schemes. We do need institutions and laws to deal with situations where trust breaks down. And those very institutions are created on the social contract of trust. Through democratic processes, we created social contracts that help us overcome self interest, for a wider interest, to move beyond my group to the common good. At the base of such a movement are values that are shared, an understanding of cooperation and persuasion rather than coercive and authoritarianism. The issue for our time, then, is to restore attitudes that reflect trust.
The very fact of freedom demands cooperation, and that means mutual trust. This is to see the other not as other but as a person, that the stranger and those different are part of our community. It is to transcend us and them to us. This is essentially a religious question. For it is a question of moral leadership.
In our Acts passage we have clues to what is needed. The community that had lost its nerve gathers. Just as the story in John. There they are, experiencing a resurrection when they look around and now collectively have regained a trust. It is a trust in the graceful compassion of God. It is there in that upper room and that experience which sends them back out, to share, to witness to the transformation they have experienced.
This is a transformation in attitude. You will notice that one of the first things they do is change their attitude about property. Because they were of one mind "they no longer claimed private ownership of any possessions." The operative word is claimed. There is a sense of freedom operating here. They do have possessions. Some do have land. What is changed is their attitude to the land and possessions. Such things no longer claimed them. Their identity was not "back off government this is our land," but that what they had was given in trust to them by God and it was to be shared. This trust was one of sharing abundance. The needs of all were that which created their identity. It was to trust the stranger. A community focused on the common good is built on the trust of God.
Now Thomas gives us our connecting question. For we are like him. We stand with Thomas. We are the community of John's time, a minority in our hostile culture. We are the church that is reforming and struggling with how it will be the church.
"Show me the money," is the expression when we express skepticism about the truth of someone's statement. Where we really do not have trust in the witness. Before we commit ourselves to something, we want to know whether it will work thus worth the energy or commitment.
We share the same issues with Thomas. We don't want second hand faith. It is not good enough to get on with the getting. Nor did he want blind faith, for that is too easily misused. Blind faith does not encourage us to probe the surface reality we experience. Blind faith allows to cruise through life without really living its joy and danger. Blind faith appeals to our prejudices or ideology or the way things are without questioning.
Thomas wanted the experience of deeper vision or sight. He wanted to access the inner workings of reality. Like Thomas we, too, want a real experience of God. Like Thomas, we want to access that experience of God, the experience we need to change our perception about what is real. When Thomas has his closed-door encounter with the raised Christ, unbelief isn't the issue. Perception is. He applied critical faith.
Critical faith is based on trust in God. It is to have faith that God is working toward beauty and the good, and will not turn aside from this task. God is dependable. Critical faith knows we can deepen our faith by asking critical questions of our tradition and inherited belief statements. Critical faith knows that all life is lived in faith. We know this by the language we use. We speak of optics or the lenses; templates; models; patterns; metaphors; and myths. Such images tell us we have a faith statement that guides us in our search for truth.
We do that in living by practice, by living in new ways, thinking new thoughts, imaging new reality - all of that is research. This is critical faith. We can test the truth of God by the walk of faith. We can test the truth of our faith by how we live.
If we truly believe that Jesus preached an inclusive kingdom where God loved all of the creation then that will concretely change the way we live. The experience of Risen Lord brings a new, second creation to those whose animating spirit has been blocked, thwarted, or disillusioned. We are in wonder so we live with wonder.
God is here, in present reality and when we let that guide us, God will become even more present in our living. God is related to all that now is, touches all living in this moment. God is not only related to all of the past and present, God opens the future. Resurrection is the statement that God is faithful to us and God has chosen us.
To begin here is to see a Mystery of love so deep and compelling that we cannot escape it, even when we deny it. This mystery of Grace that affirms us and trusts our free human will. God is faithful and has chosen us. It is to know we are acceptable. This is the ground of moral leadership, for we are called to be witnesses to God's grace so that when others look at us they can take courage. If we live that vision, we become a beacon to others.